In the Nov. 6 election, the Minnesota DFL gained far more than newfound political influence. The party of the donkey kicked the Republican elephant firmly in its hindquarters.
The speculation that Sen. Amy Klobuchar is 2020 presidential timber in the aftermath of her crushing third-term 60-36 percent victory over Jim Newberger was a direct result, many pundits say, of her ability to reach across the aisle as an emerging national leader.Aided by a massive voter turnout operation in the Twin Cities combined with the suburban voters’ nearly two-to-one rejection of President Donald Trump, the DFL captured the governorship, two U.S. Senate seats, and all the other statewide races. It also defeated Republicans congressional incumbents in both the east and west metro with a far larger than anticipated number of women voters casting their ballots for DFLers.
Significantly, Gov.-elect Tim Walz will have a 75-59 DFL House majority to work with in the Legislature after a run of DFL victories. The Republicans, who had prior control of the House with 77-57, lost 18 seats. Republicans will try to leverage their bidding by continuing to hold a one-vote majority of 34-33 in Minnesota’s 67-member state Senate.
In the last 12 years, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty was the only Republican to win a statewide race, doing so in his 2006 successful re-election bid. But returning to Minnesota from a lobbying position in Washington D.C., Pawlenty lost in the primary to Jeff Johnson this year.
Republicans need a focused plan
Undeniably, Republicans have a statewide problem in that the election indicates the party held only its base and decidedly lost the centrist, independent voters who had supported Republicans in significant numbers in recent years.
A political party is something like a three-legged stool: One element is the party in the trenches or those who do the necessary work to shape issues, recruit candidates, oversee campaigns and to raise funds to pay for it all; a second constituency consists of the candidates who are serving in office or seeking election to office, generally more moderate on issues than the activists; thirdly, the largest Republican grouping is the party on Election Day, usually a coalition of people that covers a broad cross-section of the state. In 2018, Republicans estimate they had about 1.1 million voters go to the polls. DFLers had a base vote of nearly 1.4 million.
In 2020 and beyond, it is the Republicans who need to be unified, building a strong party organization in key, winnable areas, ID’ing voters and getting them to the polls by running electable candidates who can appeal to a wider audience, particularly in the metro area suburbs.
An advantage is that Republicans are now decidedly the party of Greater Minnesota. The suburbs join the major cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rochester in favoring the DFL.
So, what can Republicans do now?
As a young man, I faced similar obstacles as the state chair of the then-Independent-Republicans of Minnesota (IRM) after the Watergate scandal. With the DFL in solid control of the state’s political machinery in 1975, our early surveys indicated that only 10 percent of voters were solid Republicans, with well over 40 percent claiming to be independent. DFLers had over a third of the voters identifying with its side. As a result of a broadly sponsored effort in 1975 to grow the party base, Minnesota became the only Republican organization in the nation to change its name by formally adopting the Independent-Republicans of Minnesota (IRM) moniker that also included intentional party outreach to labor, women, minorities and younger voters.
I believe that ideas for Republicans to consider at this time include the following:
An objective analysis of two-party system. Nearly two of every three Americans say they have lost faith in the Republicans and the Democrats to get anything done. An objective analysis of the current two-party system of governance is in order — a look at the stability that resulted as our nation’s second (John Adams) and third (Thomas Jefferson) presidents first outlined how such a system would work. Adams, who supported a strong role for the federal government, and Jefferson, a Virginian who was concerned mostly about states’ rights, sorted it out.
Emphasis on the candidate selection process. Citizens overwhelmingly want to vote for candidates who will work together to make the right things happen in our communities, states and nation. Most Americans, not necessarily the party hard-core activists from the far right to far left, believe that honorable compromise is essential.
Communications. Party leadership needs to research how to best use inclusive, rather than divisive, language in presenting policy positions and then train their candidates to do so at all levels.
Community fit. The Republicans must become pragmatic about carefully matching candidates they support to their own communities where they live and work. It is definitely not a “one size fits all” process. Minnesotans welcome diversity in the men and women of good character who choose to seek office.
Multiple endorsements may help. An idea that has long been kicked around deals with how the candidates are selected. Parties currently begin their candidate selection through local precinct caucuses and a series of conventions where elected delegates bestow the R and D endorsements prior to the primary election. The idea of allowing parties with several good candidates to each receive such endorsements (perhaps 30 percent delegate support) would invite the primary election voters to make final the candidate selection, thus building a stronger base of support.
Ranked-choice voting. The idea provides every single voter the power to rank candidates from favorite to least favorite. On election night, all the ballots are counted for voters’ first choices. If one candidate receives an outright majority, he or she wins. If not, there is a process that unfolds until a single candidate is selected.
Listening sessions. Republicans should not dwell on dissecting the 2018 election. Rather, they should go on the road in the coming weeks to host a series of local listening sessions throughout the state, free and open to anyone interested, to help in mapping a future and identifying strong potential candidates.
Candidate confabs. In the last three months of 2019, Republican candidates should be convened to get to know each other. Key party leaders and staff should then determine the resources that are necessary to be competitive. Everyone involved must work together.
A statement of principles. By 2020, a refreshed face of the Republican Party, including a positive statement of principles, should be an early initiative in reaching out directly to all Minnesota voters.
After following many of the above notions, in 1978 there was an IRM ticket landslide, stunning the DFL, which resulted in the election of a new governor, two U.S. senators, and majority control of the Minnesota House. The name change proved to be successful, inspired by a genuine outreach to many more independent-minded voters.
Chuck Slocum is the president of The Williston Group; he can be reached at Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com.